Local leaders, legislators push anti-gang laws

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Salisbury Post
Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz and Police Chief Mark Wilhelm were part of an army of mayors and law enforcement officials who lobbied state lawmakers Wednesday in support of anti-gang laws and gang prevention programs.
The N.C. Metropolitan Coalition’s effort, which included Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, the Republican nominee for governor, came hours before the N.C. Senate passed two anti-gang measures designed to cut down on gang recruitment and boost the punishment faced by gang members who commit crimes.
Kluttz and McCrory were introduced to senators during the afternoon session.
The proposed laws now head to the House for consideration.
One of the bills defines gang activity and creates new set of crimes related to gang activity. The other mandates local juvenile crime prevention councils and others be more involved in finding ways to prevent gang activity and identifying children who are at risk of joining a gang.
Supporters said both tougher penalties and preventative programs are needed to fight gangs.
Several times at the Metropolitan Coalition’s morning press conference in the Legislative Office Building, speakers mentioned the name of Treasure Feamster, the 13-year-old Salisbury girl who was shot and killed March 16, 2007, when she apparently was caught in crossfire between rival gang members.
Attorney General Roy Cooper introduced his remarks by referring to Feamster, and Salisbury’s strong community response to the girl’s death also was used to illustrate concern statewide about gang crime in cities, even those as small as Salisbury.
“We’ve never seen this kind of support,” Kluttz said of the large crowd backing the Metropolitan Coalition’s anti-gang effort.
Mayors attending the Wednesday press conference included Kluttz and the mayors of Burlington, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Concord, Durham and Winston-Salem.
The mayors were joined by Mayor Pro-Tem Susan Burgess of Charlotte, who is the president of the N.C. League of Municipalities, as well as state legislators, municipal officials and law enforcement officers from around the state.
Besides Wilhelm, law enforcement officials from the following municipalities participated in the press conference: Charlotte, Concord, Durham, Fayetteville, Gastonia, Greensboro, Greenville, Jacksonville, Wilmington and Winston-Salem.
The coalition held a press conference in Salisbury last year after the anti-gang legislation passed the House but was stalled in the Senate.
Since then, former Coalition Chairman Allen Joines, mayor of Winston-Salem, appointed a special subcommittee comprised of Kluttz and Durham Mayor Bill Bell to lobby senators, including identified opponents. Kluttz also sat down with Cooper.
Kluttz said a sticking point for those who had been opposed to the legislation was the concern that the state budget would not include enough funding for gang prevention and intervention programs.
She said lawmakers now intend to raise that funding from $3 million to $10 million.
McCrory had criticized the General Assembly for not enacting the legislation last year and made it a focal point of his primary campaign this spring.
Both the Street Gang Prevention Act and legislation promoting gang prevention programs passed out of the Senate Rules Committee Tuesday, as Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue, the Democratic nominee for governor, said through a spokesman that anti-gang legislation was one of her top priorities in the current short session.
A total of nine young men, ranging in age from 16 to 23, were arrested in connection with Feamster’s death. All but one are still awaiting trial on charges that include first-degree murder, accessory after the fact and inciting a riot.
Meanwhile, reaction to the young girl’s death swept in waves over Salisbury. The sudden focus on gangs and youth violence drew state and national attention.
Churches, governments, law enforcement, schools, nonprofits, businesses, civic organizations and others asked themselves what they could do to address the gang problem and provide alternative choices for youth.
Led by Kluttz, the city of Salisbury gave them a forum. The city was host for June and November “Gang Summits,” which attracted hundreds of people for each session.
The summits identified eight areas of focus and assigned groups of people and resources to each. “Salisbury-Rowan United” now centers on law enforcement, job opportunities, mentoring, recreation, schools, parental support, community awareness and faith-based initiatives.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.

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